“Almost a Minyan” is a picture book by Lori S. Kline, a Pittsburgh native currently living in Texas.
In the book, an unnamed tween girl’s father regularly attends services in their small town, always bringing his tefillin and tallis with him. However, sometimes the shul does not have the requisite 10 people for a minyan.
In the middle of the book, the girl’s grandfather passes away, which prompts her father to attend shul daily to say Kaddish. During the mourning period, the girl turns 13, enabling her to join her father for prayers and become part of the Jewish community. A heartfelt moment is when the father hands down his late father’s tefillin and tallis to his daughter.
The story is told in verse, a typical format for a book intended to be read aloud; however, the girl in the book is older than a traditional protagonist in picture books — the typical audience for picture books is the elementary school set, not middle school children.
Writing in rhyme is challenging, and the rhythm of the verse should flow in an unbroken meter — for the most part, this was accomplished, with a few stanzas in which the verse did not flow as smoothly.
Nonetheless, the book relays an important message — one of inclusion, that girls and young women count, that they are an important part of a minyan, of Jewish rituals. Of course, women being included as part of a minyan is not the case at every synagogue, but the book reflects how times have changed.
Also, and while I am unsure if this was intentional, many of the characters in the drawings by artist Susan Simon appear to be multicultural, which is also indicative of inclusion — that the face of Judaism has changed as well.
The book, both through its text and artwork, effectively conveys the feelings of a tightknit family and community, particularly in light of Jewish mourning rituals. The softly shaded artwork is lovely and nicely complements the text.
A handy glossary at book’s end defines the Yiddish and Hebrew words used in the book for those unfamiliar with the terminology.
Hilary Daninhirsch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.